A storied river with a history that dates back to the origins of the planet, the Nile has always been shrouded in mystery and enchantment. Weaving through some of Africa's most intriguing countries, it was once the only way people could traverse the continent's incredibly varied landscapes. The best way to soak up the Nile's considerable charm and history is on a river cruise, where you can explore ancient landscapes that have changed little since pharaohs ruled, along with these tantalizing sights:
Giza's Pyramids and Sphinx
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the only remaining representative on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World list, and when you stand next to it, you'll understand why. A sun-baked beast of rising stone, it towers over you and across the land, showing all who gaze upon it who, exactly, is the king. Khufu, along with sister structures Khafre, Menkaure and the Great Sphynx, sits on the west bank of the Nile, approximately 13 miles southwest of Cairo. River cruises often offer VIP and tailored excursions into these incredible pyramids, giving you a chance to peruse the 160,000 artifacts and the tombs inside without standing in lines.
Some visitors skip Cairo and head straight to the pyramids. However, the city is full of incredible sights, and a Nile river cruise often gives you a few hours of exploration time before heading out. Either join a guided tour or head out on your own to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, home to a huge collection of artifacts and the famous gallery displaying the riches of King Tutankhamen; or to the colorful outdoor souk Khan el-Khalili to buy fresh spices, essential oils and vibrant fabrics.
The stunning temple of Luxor, which dates back to 1,400 BCE, is one of the most expansive complexes in Africa and is clearly visible from the east bank of the Nile. Once home to a popular religious festival, the temple now sits serenely in well-kept beauty, with its pink granite obelisk, large courtyards, immense statues and shrines. Touted as the largest open air museum in the world, you often can find yourself alone as you walk around the vast complex, giving your tour an intimate feel.
Edfu & Aswan
How else but on a docked river cruise can you ride into the historic Temple of Horus on a horse-drawn carriage? A tribute to the falcon god, this soaring edifice is well preserved since it was built relatively recently, in Egyptian standards, during the Ptolemaic Dynasty between 237 and 52 BCE. Afterwards, your boat will take you to Kom Ombo, home to the double temple dedicated to the sky god Haroeris and the crocodile god Sobek, a protective deity thought to have created the world. Many cruises here also take you to Aswan to attend a Nubian party, which often features time-honored dances and the traditional live music.
For a more adventurous river cruise, book one that starts in Jinja, Uganda, which is where the Nile is thought to originate. Here you'll have the chance to disembark for the day, hop on a river raft and paddle vigorously down the river's roaring Class V rapids. Challenging and adrenaline-pumping, these rapids are flanked by thick brush that often hides unique wildlife. End your wild adventure with a leisurely two-hour sunset river boat cruise on the Nile, cold beer in hand, as the staff serves you freshly barbecued meats, pâté and bruschetta.